Interview Kate Schatz Trans Rights

‘There Is NO Neutral When It Comes To Supporting Your Child’

Trans rights are human rights (UK protest). Alisdare Hickson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Kate Schatz / Substack

Dear Reader,

This installment of I Love What You’re Doing is…oh, it’s so many things, but I guess what I want you to know at the outset is that it’s important. And I REALLY want you to read the whole thing. I mean, I always hope you take the time to read what I share. But this one is different. It features a conversation with a dear friend of mine who bravely offers a perspective we all need to hear right now: that of a person who is working hard to do a deeply challenging thing, against odds that are increasingly stacked against her and the person she is working so hard to keep safe. She’s not a famous person, or a rich person, and the power that she has is not the power this country values, because she is a mother, she is a Black mother, and she is raising an 11 year old trans daughter. In Texas.

You see why this is important, right?

What follows is a transcribed conversation between H and I, and what it’s like parenting her daughter M in this moment. Though M and her family are out and proud in their community, and have taken part in many public demonstrations and marches, I’m not using names or photos or other information here. Because the internet, like this country, is not safe. For anyone, really, but especially for Black trans women and girls.

This is the first time that H has shared her story in this way, and I am deeply grateful to her for trusting me with it. She has always worked hard for her family, but as anti-trans rhetoric has increased over the past few years—as it has gone from rhetoric to *actual legislation*—I have seen her work harder than ever. To fight against back the politics and legislation, yes, but more importantly: to keep her daughter safe and healthy, every single day. In this I have seen what it truly means to be a “mama bear.”

H is a relentlessly wonderful person to be around: she is upbeat and hilarious and infectiously energetic. She’s also really fucking real, and she doesn’t waste time pretending that things are OK when they are absolutely not. Our conversation was raw. She cried, on and off, for the entire time. We both did. How could we not?

I love H and M and their entire family and I will go to the fucking mat for them all. The last time I saw M, a few months ago in Texas, she kicked my butt in Uno and gleefully gave me a tour of her bedroom. She sang songs from the Broadway hit “SIX” and served me tea and Girl Scout cookies. She is not a news story. She is not a political talking point. She is a real, whole, beautiful child and her existence is not up for debate. Her experience and her right to a healthy, full life of care, access, and love is not contingent on your opinion, or mine, and I think that every political stuntsperson out there should have to sit down for tea, Thin Mints, and a raucous game of Uno with a child like M before they go and spew a bunch of hateful homophobic BS and vote against her safety.

I hope this conversation offers some sense of what it’s actually like when your family, your baby, is suddenly, unwittingly, and deeply unfairly a political target. When white supremacist culture wars and exploitative politics are being played out on the fragile back of your family.

Thank you for reading. Be forewarned that it’s long, and also we swear. Both feel necessary. And if you’re moved by what you read here today, please share it with others; please make your support for trans kids and their families as public as possible; and please consider supporting one (or all!) of the following organizations:

Equality Texas

TENT (the Transgender Education Network of Texas)

Lambda Legal

Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!

KS: I’d like to start with this: how are you?

H: Thankfully I had a therapy appointment this morning, because otherwise that therapist would have been you. You know, it’s just…it’s just terrible. Everything’s terrible. Yesterday was fifth grade graduation, which is normally such a happy time, and it was, but also so bittersweet because it’s the culmination of what has been a really challenging journey for us. She transitioned after kindergarten, and so we’ve just gone through it with that school and we’ve had to advocate in so many different ways. They’ve really risen to the challenge and supported us, and it feels really hard to realize that we may have to leave that community. We feel so much support and love from so many people—I mean, at least from people who are not elected officials.

When you have a transgender child in this country there’s a lot of feelings of un-safety. For us the un-safety isn’t as much physical as it is emotional. I feel completely unstable. Texas just banned medical care for my child, and so have other states. It’s been overturned in some places but I can’t assume that will happen here. We don’t have any assurances that someone out there, some governmental body, is going to come in and save us or protect us or help us. That’s probably the hardest thing to deal with.

For better or for worse I’ve always had faith in the checks and balances in this country. I don’t have that anymore. I don’t feel like anyone’s going to help us, and so we have to help ourselves, and there’s a lot of disappointment around that. There’s a lot of anger. Grief is the word I keep thinking of. I’m grieving having to make this really difficult choice of doing whatever is going to allow my child to have the things she deserves.

KS: Can you please share some of your family’s story?

H: Oh yes, we love an origin story. We’re super into the Marvel Cinematic Universe over here these days. So: my husband and I live in Texas with our two children, one of whom is our 11 year old transgender daughter. The first gender-related memory I have of her is when she was 3 ½, playing with a friend, and put on a dress. We thought, Oh, how cute. That’s adorable, you know? That was it. But it kept coming up, any time we were in a space where there were costumes or she had any access to dresses. Then she wanted to put them on at home, which was fine, but she didn’t want to wear them outside.

Fast forward to kindergarten where this normally very decently behaved child started having behavioral episodes. She had just turned 6. At one point, she actually kicked her teacher, which was shocking. It was not her style at all. We had a talk and I said “Hey, you’re making a lot of choices that are not great, but you are a great person.” I asked “What are some things that you like about yourself?”

And she said, “I don’t like anything about myself.”

Which, of course, as a parent, you’re like, dagger to the heart, right? So I asked “What don’t you like about yourself?” She said “I don’t like that I’m not a girl.”

That was a complete “check, please!” moment for me. Just OH. Maybe this isn’t just about dresses. This is something deeper.

She had just turned six. We sought out a therapist to help us talk it through. I want to interject here and say something, because I hear so many criticisms from people on the “other side” about parents “pushing” these “ideas” on their kids. I can only speak for myself here, but it took such a long time to get to where we are today, in part because there were so many things that I tried to tell myself or convince myself of. I was reluctant to even get a therapist because I didn’t want the therapist to tell her how to feel or encourage her one way or the other.

One of the first things that I asked the therapist about was how do you go about talking to a kid about something like this, you know, without sort of identifying either way for them? That person was wonderful and so talented and good at her job, and she very much assured me that she was there just to speak to them. To learn more about them, and to listen. I really, really credit that person with giving our daughter the language and the confidence to talk to speak more openly to us about what she was already feeling and experiencing.

I remember that at that point we weren’t using her appropriate pronouns. The therapist said “What pronouns does your child prefer?” And I said, “I think M would like to be referred to as ‘she’” and the therapist said, “Ok. So why aren’t you doing that?” I had no answer for that. I had no answer, except this idea that I had to stay neutral. I have to stay neutral!

But right then it became super clear to me: there is no neutral when it comes to supporting your child. Right? There’s just no neutral. You are there to support them, to keep them safe, it’s like your ONE job. I had my own cultural and historical stuff and feelings to unpack, but at that point I realized it wasn’t about me. That’s when we took on the job of really leaning into doing whatever she needed.

KS: YES! I mean nothing about being a human is neutral, and for sure nothing about being a mother is neutral!

H: I always tell this story because I think it was so impactful. So the last day of kindergarten comes, and she asked to wear a dress to school. That was a huge, huge thing, and I freaked out. It just felt like too much, so she didn’t wear one. The very next day was the first day of summer camp, and she asked to wear a skirt. The camp was run by her after-school program, so it felt like a safe and familiar place. I said “OK, yes, you can wear a skirt tomorrow.” I sent an email to the director and said “Heads up, my kid’s gonna show up in a skirt.”

We walk into camp the very next day, and she’s wearing her skirt. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone’s looking at us. No one’s talking. We spot a kid who was in her kindergarten class and he’s standing next to a girl we didn’t know. The boy from her class is this athletic, super sporty kid. We walk over to them and the girl folds her arms and immediately says “Why are you wearing a skirt?” And without batting an eye the boy says “Because she wants to!”

Oh my god. I almost died. Here’s this kid who, in my imagination, is the classic example of the kid who “won’t get it”, who might even bully her. And maybe he didn’t “get it”—what matters is that he knew instinctively that his only job was to be supportive of his friend. I love this because it’s a reminder that the kids are fine. The kids are fine! The kids get it, and they have throughout her whole elementary school journey.

That summer we decided to tell the school about her transition, so she came to first grade with her correct pronoun, in the clothes she wanted to wear. The experience was challenging, but not because of the kids. It’s the adults. The kids were great, they were correcting their parents on the pronouns, they were like “Of course she’s a she! This makes so much sense to us!”

It was tricky with the administration initially. I think they were on board with us, but their focus at first was really just trying to make everyone happy, which is a falsehood. You’re not going to please everyone. They were trying their best to try to toe the line of being respectful to us, but also of other parents who “weren’t comfortable.” But very quickly, and then over these years, they’ve been so supportive. We’ve had our microaggressions, we’ve had our instances of what I’ve considered bullying, but they’ve always been willing to tackle and address them.

Now it’s onward to middle school, which is a whole thing that keeps me up at night. It would keep me up even if I didn’t have a transgender kid, honestly. Middle school is where a lot of shit goes down, you know, emotionally and physically. And being a transgender kid in middle school? It’s hard enough, and it just makes this whole political circus feel so extra abusive. We don’t need it to be any harder, you know?

KS: Your family’s experience has been happening over the course of the last six years. It’s really been the past year and a half that trans kids have become this political target on a whole new, horrific level. Have you felt the repercussions of that shift in school?

H: Thankfully, no, not within the school. If anything, the shift has been more support. I’m sure there are parents out there who probably don’t understand and don’t agree, but so far they’ve had the good sense to keep their mouths shut and keep those opinions to themselves. I’m so thankful that I’ve not encountered that at all personally, which I think underscores the degree to which these political cultural wars are created by politicians. They’re not borne out in day to day life in terms of actual people. If anything people have been more supportive as that rhetoric ramped up and increased in intensity.

KS: My 13 year old recently told me about a difficult conversation she’d had with an older person she knows about gender identity. This person is a pretty tried-and-true lefty—votes blue, watches MSNBC, etc. But she’s having a hard time understanding “the trans thing.” My kid used M as an example, like “My friend transitioned in kindergarten, she knew who she was then and she still does!” When my kid told me about the exchange I felt a little deflated, like oh man, even people “on our side” don’t get it!

H: It’s so, so true. And I get it. Years ago when we lived in California we had a friend whose child is transgender, and they sent an announcement about a welcoming ceremony they were having for their child, to welcome who he is and who he’s meant to be. I remember very clearly thinking “Wow, that’s a really intense public thing to do for a 7 year old!” I thought what if the kid changes their mind? I felt nervous for them!

And now I know: so what if they change their mind? Literally so the fuck what? So what? What is this thing that I’m so afraid of? You come to realize that so many of your thoughts around it are centered around what other people will think. What other people will think of you as a parent, what other people think of your child. I worried so much: what is my family gonna think? What are people gonna think? What if we tell them this and then something changes and we have to tell them something else? What will that be like?

It takes so much work to clear that space. And I’m not gonna say it’s ever cleared fully right? But you do get to the point where you care less and less and that’s a very freeing point to get.

To your point about people that are “liberal” My friend lives in New Jersey and she sent me a text thread with a group of moms that she’s friends with, and they were talking about a transgender kid in their school. These are women who purport to be “liberal” and they were saying things like “My kid likes to dress up as a firefighter, but I’m not going to send him into a burning building!” My friend had to come out and be like, HEY, NOPE.

When I hear stories like that I feel really discouraged because gosh, if the people that are quote unquote “on our side” feel that way that I don’t know what we’re going to do. It’s part of why I want to do things like this interview, why I want to talk to people and share stories. It’s exhausting to have to be the educator for people and to share your story over and over but it’s worth it. It’s necessary. The more people know about the lived experiences of trans people, especially trans children, the more they can try to understand. They might never fully accept it, but it doesn’t have to be this completely foreign, scary thing. The people who know us and who know M can all see the consistency around her wishes and her identity, they see the love and support, they see that she’s just a kid trying to be a damn kid.

KS: Speaking of a kid being a kid: how do you navigate letting her be her 11 year old self and also keeping her aware of the like larger cultural, horrific conversation? How much does she know and understand about it all?

H: We’ve made the choice—for better for worse—to be very open with her about everything. I don’t want her to find out from someone else, and I want to control the conversation and keep it centered on our support for her. She does need to know what’s out there. When gender-affirming care was officially banned here in Texas, I said “I want you to know about this, but I also want you to know that it doesn’t change anything about our commitment to getting you the care that you need and that you deserve and that you have a right to access.”

I’m carefully watching her all the time to see if she’s showing signs of being distressed by it all. It’s hard with kids that age because they give you so little, like I’ll tell her all this and she’s like “OK” and shrugs and goes on with her day. But then there are moments where she has a big reaction to something and I’m like hmm, you’re clearly very upset about something else... I’m always worried about the deeper anxiety, and I do worry whether it’s the right decision to tell her.

But I also think it’s so important to model for kids that grown-ups don’t always know what we’re doing, and that we’re trying to figure it out, too. I want to show her the tools that I’m using to get through this time. It’s really hard for me, and I want her to see me leaning on my community. I want her to see me working through it. And most importantly I want her to see that literally nothing’s gonna stop me protecting her. As long as I’m alive, I will do everything to protect her. And honestly, I’m sure I’ll do it from the grave!

KS: Oh, girl, you will be haunting for sure.

H: I will! I will be haunting anyone who stands between her and her happiness.

KS: My god, I love you. I just want to reach the screen and give you the biggest hug. And now I want to ask you about hope, which I know might be a tough one because everything is feeling so terrible. Are there people or organizations or things that give you some kind of hope as you’re navigating this time? And if you say no, that’s fine.

H: My friend’s daughter is eight and she has this perfect phrase: “I’m feeling sappy.” It’s a combination of sad and happy! Sappy! This child has unlocked what I’ve been trying to express to therapists for years but I didn’t have the language for it. I’m so happy every day. And I’m so sad. I think about people who are out here trying to do their best to support this community, and I feel so thankful. And I’m so angry. And so depressed and scared. But I also refuse to let them win, whatever that looks like. So it’s just sappy every damn day.

It’s all so hard, but yes, I do have hope. It’s the people like that kid from summer camp, who just came from a place of goodness. I have hope around this next generation. I have hope when I see trans kids like M just live their lives, having this identity just be another variation of how kids are.

The resiliency of this community gives me hope for sure. I was at the Texas State Capitol [in Austin] a lot during this legislative session, and there were so many people coming out to support us. The Texas Capitol is a very formidable building, it’s just huge and grand and full of white men in suits. When I walk in I feel immediately unsafe, to be honest. I feel physically unsafe in the company of that group of people. But seeing all the people in the community that came together and showed up was so helpful. Despite the reality of this state we live in, these people had the time, the desire, the drive to come and advocate and be present and be seen. Part of me would honestly rather stay in the house and be safe and be hidden, and I’m hopeful when I see people like that.

The promise of this next generation is exciting. You know, these old white men won’t hold power forever. So make way for the rest of us who want to live and who want to actually live up to the purported ideals of this country.  I also find hope in my own stubbornness. And honestly, no shade to dads but moms are just the literal fucking best. The power of mothers is so tremendous to me. I’m seeing that and then owning that for myself and really letting that shine. It helps me lean into the fact that there’s literally no way anyone’s gonna hurt my child. It’s just not gonna happen.

KS: What can people do? I’m thinking about cis folks, people who don’t have trans kids and who are not necessarily impacted by this every single day. What actions do you see people taking that make you “fuck yeah, thank you!”

H: Public allyship is huge. I know that many people avoid talking publicly about “politics” because we don’t want to offend or we don’t know how other people feel about it and we don’t want to rock the boat. But the more you can be a public vocal ally for trans kids and families, the better off we all are. These politicians can get away with things like this if they feel as though they’re speaking for everyone. So let them know that they’re not speaking for you, even if you don’t have a trans child.

KS: Finally: can you suggest a few organizations that people can support?

H: For sure. Here are three:

  1. Equality Texas is a great organization.
  2. TENT (the Transgender Education Network of Texas) is another one doing amazing advocacy work.
  3. And then Lambda Legal. Honestly if you have a small amount of money give it to Lambda Legal because the next phase of this fight is the courts, and Lambda is working so hard to prove these laws to be the unconstitutional bullshit that they are.

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Kate Schatz

Author, speaker, educator. Feminist, southpaw, rabblerouser. Rad woman, queer mama.

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